Crate-digger, DJ, label head, and producer, Berliner Glenn Astro is a man of many talents. Having started his career in the early years of this century as a hip-hop DJ, Astro soon found a kindred musical spirit in Max Graef and began producing noodling, jazz-infused works with a dragged-back hip-hop mentality. Releasing his first LP in 2015, ‘Throwback’, last year saw an upbeat, twitchy collaborative release with Graef on Ninja Tune, ‘The Yard Work Simulator’, and now the mini-LP, ‘Even’, with relative newcomer and label-mate Ajnascent.
In fact, the pair go beyond just being label-mates; they both attended the same high school and have been friends since their teens. Channelling this shared history then, ‘Even’ is a record that relies on inter-connectivity, comprising six tracks of studio jams. As a DJ, Glenn Astro has always leaned heavily on the jazz canon, throwing rare cuts and experimental gems into his club sets, and in ‘Even’ he brings these latent influences to the fore.
Ajnascent, who has a background as a live musician, is a heavy influence, steering the record into its identity as a live tape recording, manipulated and then overdubbed by Astro. Opener ‘Victor and the Gemini’ builds over a sparse selection of Rhodes chords before a jittery drum pattern takes charge, sitting beneath a bassline that would make Thundercat proud. Here we find Astro in ‘Yard Work’ territory, except without overt reference to electronics; this time the feeling is unmistakably jazz. Similarly, ‘Me Father Was A Tree’ incorporates the squelchy synth sounds of tracks like ‘Money $ex Theme’ from the Graef record, while ‘The Modernista’ employs the wobbly tape bending that has become something of a trademark for Astro.
The fact that ‘Even’ has a recognisable sound is no bad thing though, since it expands on this familiarity with a jazz mentality of increased live instrumentation. Spontaneity is a key theme as tracks meander and develop pleasingly without the need for rigid structure, resulting in numbers like ‘Nefastis Machine’ with its frenetic drumming, surprising double breakdown, and abrupt ending. Running just shy of 30 minutes, ‘Even’ is largely enthralling owing to this sense of surprise that accompanies the song structures, and not just because of its short length. While the ambience of ‘Troika’ feels like an unnecessary break in such a brief work, it is ‘Диско’ (‘Disco’) that steals the show. Living up to its name, the track combines an infectious rhythm with tasteful Rhodes work that conjures Roy Ayers at his best.
Ultimately, the looseness of ‘Even’ is its best feature, and one that conveys a sense of authentic creativity to the listener. Employing the subtlest of electronic touches, the record is at heart an embodiment of the jazz principles of improvisation and uninhibited self-expression. Having captured the live experience on record, Glenn Astro and Ajnascent are now set to hit the road, making ‘Even’ the perfect primer for listeners to witness the compositions in their original forms.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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